Published: December 9, 2015
Review and Photos by Carol Sims
NEW YORK CITY — Saturday night, November 14, at The American Art Fair (TAAF) was packed right from 5 pm all the way until 8 pm as 700 invited guests — the biggest crowd ever — flowed steadily into the mini-exhibitions mounted by 17 dealers. Spread out over three floors of the Bohemian National Hall on 321 East 73rd Street, the gala felt like the place to be. The show ran through November 18.
Warren Adelson of Adelson Galleries, New York City, said, “We saw lots of people. It was quite a crowd.” Collectors from all over America came to New York for American Art Week, and the fair gala was the party that launched the entire week. Debra Force said, “The crowd was extremely good — we had established collectors and museum curators coming through.”
American art has been from its inception a changing, evolving creative expression with a huge range of aesthetics — including individualistic artists who are hard to categorize — so a show of American art has the potential to be very refreshing, and that was the case at the 8th annual fair. Dealers brought examples of Hudson River School, Luminism, American Impressionism (Mary Cassatt, Childe Hassam, William Glackens), WPA, American Modernism, Social Realism, trompe l’oeil (Harnett), Precisionism (Charles Sheeler), illustration (Norman Rockwell), and self-taught or folk art (Anna Mary Robertson or “Grandma Moses”).
Some dealers blended centuries to good effect and others concentrated on one period. The elephant not in the room, not even the tip of its trunk, was American contemporary art — no works by living artists were present, according to fair producer Catherine Sweeney Singer. Even Forum Gallery, known for contemporary realism with an edge, featured secondary market pieces from the Twentieth Century, such as Ben Shahn, Alexander Archipenko, Andrew Wyeth, Franz Kline, Raphael Soyer and Louise Nevelson.
“Tales of the demise of Nineteenth Century market are premature,” said Howard Godel of Godel & Co., New York City. “I brought Modernism and Impressionism, but the three paintings I sold were Nineteenth Century.” He was very pleased with TAAF. “It’s the best fair of its type, with some of the top dealers in American art bringing their finest things.” Godel’s booth featured a gorgeous Martin Johnson Heade sunset landscape painting, which he described as “one of the most significant acquisitions of my career.”
Jonathan Boos, New York City, specializes in Twentieth Century American Art and hung works by George Bellows, Peter Blume, Francis Criss, John Graham, Marsden Hartley, Jacob Lawrence, Hughie Lee-Smith, John Singer Sargent and Charles Green Shaw.
Driscoll Babcock Galleries brought art from three centuries, decking their booth with large, important Modernist works, as well as some gems from Eastman Johnson, including the delightful “Crossing the Brook” of a girl carrying a young child on her back as she navigates a fallen log to cross a stream. Dr John Driscoll, PhD, is a big supporter of contemporary painters, but you would need to visit his Chelsea gallery to see them — selected because they “One, have a vital connection to the American art tradition, and two, are on the thin line between realism and abstraction.”
D.C. Moore Gallery also makes its home in Chelsea, and brought a large, bright Romare Bearden collage, which contrasted with George Tooker’s softly hued painting of girls in bathing suits at a New Jersey beach pavilion, exuding the quiet mystery typical of his best work. Also to be found in their booth were works by Charles Burchfield, Stuart Davis and Walt Kuhn.
Meredith Ward Fine Art, New York City, had a wall devoted to the colorful, curvilinear abstractions of Flora Crockett, also the subject of a solo show at Ward’s gallery, as well as works by Modernists Joseph Stella, Arthur Dove, Milton Avery and John Marin. She also featured six watercolors by Charles Biederman of the Brooklyn Bridge.
John H. Surovek Gallery, Palm Beach, Fla., brought two New York City scenes by impressionist Guy C. Wiggins, a still life with tulips by Thomas Hart Benton, a large landscape by Neil Welliver, an Anna Mary Robertson, a portrait by Paxton and beach scene by Maurice Prendergast, among many other treats.
“We still plant our feet on both sides of the turn of the century,” said Mark Ostrander of sculpture gallery Conner Rosenkranz, New York City. They brought a 1923 bronze garden fountain by Bonnie MacLeary of a crab pinching the finger of a child, which had a very nice dark green patina. One of the most irresistible pieces was the large salamander fire screen by William Hunt Diederich (1884–1953). The Salamander King was also the subject of a handsome Diederich paper silhouette with graphite on foil backing.
Lou Salerno and his son Brent of Questroyal Fine Art, New York City, were entertaining a crowd of collectors at their booth with the back story of their most recent acquisition, a lively William Glackens painting of people enjoying the last glowing rays of a summer day at the beach, all dressed in the charming period clothing of Glacken’s day. Measuring 25 1⁄8 by 30 1⁄8, the painting looked quite at home in the $7,000 custom frame that the dealers ordered well before the previous owner decided to part with the painting, which was just a few days before the fair.
Tom Veilleux, Portland, Maine, knows how to set up an attractive booth. This year he set Elie Nadelman sculptures in front of figurative works by Guy Pene du Bois, Marsden Hartley and Walt Kuhn to very good effect.
A tabletop sized “Yawning Tiger” bronze sculpture by Anna Hyatt Huntington greeted people coming into the corner booth of Debra Force Fine Art, New York City. Her display was full of prize works by Sargent, Potthast, Vonnoh (a spectacular garden picture), Thomas Hart Benton (Old Kansas City), Grant Wood (a beautifully drawn 1933 charcoal and pencil portrait of a salt-of-the-earth woman) Eastman Johnson and Marguerite Zorach (an impressive Modernist portrait of a woman in blue that one show attendee thought looked like Debra).
One of the little unexpected treasures at the show was George L.K. Morris’s 1944 diminutive abstract “Breakfast in Bed” at Menconi + Schoelkopf, on their wall of Modernism. As you moved around the booth, you could find Otis Kaye trompe l’oeil paintings of money, Hudson River pictures from Cropsey and Gifford and an impressionistic floral from Glackens.
Ann Elizabeth Restak of James Reinish & Associates, New York City, was delighted to share a large oil on canvas by Blanche Lazzell of gloxinias in a vase. Lazzell’s interesting composition dates to 1929 and was painted with combination of hard-edged abstraction and painterly modeling and shading.
Hirschl & Adler also showed both Impressionism and Hudson River, including a glorious luminist painting by Francis Augustus Silva of sailboats on a river. A memorable bronze sculpture by Diederich of nearly life-sized greyhounds playing was elegantly stylized.
“If you want Redfield, this is it,” said Richard Rossello of Avery Galleries, Bryn Mawr, Penn., and New York City, referring to Edward Redfield’s “Brook and Birches,” 1937, oil on canvas, 38 by 50 inches. It was priced at $595,000. Rossello also showed a marvelous, radiant Daniel Garber masterpiece titled “Yonder Hill.”
Thomas Colville, of Guilford, Conn., and New York City, is owner of the show and an exhibitor on the uppermost floor of the hall along with Avery Galleries. Colville sold a William Merritt Chase painting on opening night. He also sold a George Inness and had interest in a Sargent landscape. “Everybody I talked to sold at least one picture, maybe more. That hasn’t always been the case, so this was a very good year. I was pleasantly surprised by both the sales at the fair and the aggressive prices achieved at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.”
This year, Colville lined up two expert lecturers with slide presentations “to put meat on the bones of American Art Week.” They were Avis Berman, a writer and art historian who spoke about the founding of the Whitney Museum on Sunday, and Stephanie Herdrich, assistant research curator of the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who gave the talk “Collecting Sargent: Posers and Patrons in the Gilded Age” on Monday. There were several Sargents for sale on the floor of the show, at least six, so this was a perfect match. Colville said, “The lecturers were fabulous — articulate, interesting, informative — and not generally available to people.”
While no one could foresee the carnage unleashed in Paris the Friday night before, the timing of the fair (November 15–18) was planned to be very good, launching American Art Week in New York City, which included a gallery walk on Wednesday and American art auctions at Bonhams, Sotheby’s and Christie’s. The show doesn’t overlap with Art Basel, Miami Beach, and dealers could enjoy Thanksgiving. For information, www.theamericanartfair.com.
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